Secundino Hernández discusses his new exhibition, Paso
Martin Coomer: Standing in front of your new monochrome ‘washed’ paintings, I’m struck by how they seem to be about erasure as much as addition.
Secundino Hernández: That is the primary idea. Normally, we say that painting is about addition, but with these works I’m going through the painting, and through the prepared ground, to the raw canvas. I’m taking a step back, if you like, moving out of the image.
MC: They have a dramatic, exploratory quality but also a distinct urban feel, like being surrounded by weathered walls.
SH: Yes, I think it’s partly due to the scale of the work. With this size of canvas, you have a sense of architectural scale. Being surrounded by them, it’s almost like you’re in a street.
MC: There's a palpable tension between calculation and spontaneity in these works. Are the gestures mapped out in advance?
SH: When I plan the work I make collages that are very intuitive. But because we then have to make the stretchers, sew lengths of canvas together and apply the ground, I have to know what I want to paint in advance. It's not like I take a raw canvas and I simply start to paint. Nothing is casual.
MC: How does working on such a large scale alter the process?
SH: You have to change everything. You're not just moving your hands, you're moving your entire body. It's more performative. You have to find solutions, physically and mentally.
MC: You use an industrial pressure washer to remove certain areas
of paint and primer. Describe the process of using it. Is it hard work, physically?
SH: Physically it's exhausting because the paintings are big but it's more about the combination of hot water, cold water and pressure that provides you with different results.
MC: Do you have an end point in mind when you begin?
SH: I like to discover things through painting because it's a way to learn and to analyse and to see. The point is to break the conventional language of abstraction. When the works succeed I don't see geometric shapes any more. I see a dance between pictorial languages and a balance between something which is very much under control and something else which is accidental. Sometimes it's like a miracle, because suddenly these paintings are transformed, and the conventional forms become something more organic and more thrilling.
MC: Is relinquishing control a necessary step, are you trying to challenge your facility, to go beyond yourself?
SH: It's a balance between aspects that you can control and some things you just have to accept. With the washing process, whenI break the surface and I corrupt the work, then I have to accept that something else is happening.
MC: The margins between success and failure in these works must be slight.
SH: Of course, but it' s not just about coming along with a hose and, whoosh, destroying the work. You have to be ready to accept that you can make a mistake,or that it can be successful. But, to be honest, it's like that with every painting I make. Even if I'm painting figures it's the same. It could be a masterpiece, or it could be ruined in two seconds.
MC: With the washing process, is there a way back from something once it's ruined?
SH: No, once it's gone, it's gone.
MC: I'm interested in what compels you, artistically, psycho logically, to take such creative risks.
SH: It's about breaking the dynamic of your whole inner life. You have to open fields or doors or windows. You have to provoke. You have to do something new. Who wants to come to the studio and do the same thing every day? This is the reason why we have to make art, it's the chance to try something new. To discover, or not, is the whole journey. You have to enjoy it, or suffer, or whatever - it's up to you.
Read the full conversation in the catalogue for Secundino Hernández: Paso, published by Victoria Miro. Designed by acclaimed Madrid practice This Side Up, in close collaboration with the artist, the publication features an essay by Oliver Basciano, a specially-conceived artist's cover, a poster of his largest 'palette' work to date, and extensive photography by Thierry Bal, illustrating the process of creating the new bodies of work featured in the exhibition.
Photography: Thierry Bal